Sunday, October 28, 2007

Germany wrap up: Hildesheim and Celle

HILDESHEIM is a relatively big metropolis, bigger than Hameln, and situated to the north towards Hamburg. The city is a lively mix of modern and ancient architecture.

The pretty Hildesheim market square.

Popularly known for its university, the ‘Rose Route’, cathedral and Michaelis’ church recognized and now listed as one of UNESCO’s cultural heritages of mankind, and lastly but not the least, its impressive historical market square, the heart of Hildesheim where you can stand in awe and stare at the magnificent buildings for hours.

The market square just started to fill up with local tourists.

The market square has the most beautiful half-timbered buildings in Germany (they say) - humongous and grandiose buildings covered with conspicuous ornate designs and eye-catching paintings and sculptures protuberant from the façade in flamboyant colors. You can stare up at them and marvel at the details and the remarkable painstaking work artists have labored for each piece of art.

Lovely detailed artwork on a building.

And me goofing around, haha!

Above foto is a sample of the intricate details of one of the building façades – frieze artwork carved laboriously in wood and painted in a variety of colors up the building’s cornice. If you are an art lover or someone who simply appreciates these, you are in for a real feast.


On a nutshell, Hildesheim was a ‘okay’ - a 2.5 rating out of 5 score. It did not really match up to our expectations as compared to Hameln, Bad Pyrmont, and Celle. The market square was lovely though.


To check out my fotos of this place, go here: Hildesheim Fotos

CELLE on the other hand is a wonderful piece of town work! It breathes fairy tale land with 700 years of history.



Celle is sooo lovely! We fell in love with the place instantly - who would not? Just look at the foto, it was love at first sight.

The town has more than 500 cozy and richly colored half-timbered houses huddled with each other in the old Centrum, all dating back to the early 15th - 18th centuries. Buildings are preserved carefully to look like they how they were during the olden days. Many of these charming houses are now commercial establishments (on the ground floor), and upstairs are living quarters.

Here is a pretty building by the junction, appears to be an Oliver shop, the clothing store.

I am very thankful of the Dutch mother for recommending that we proceed to Celle from Hildesheim. She and Dutch father have not really been here but they have heard of many enthusiastic stories from friends who recently visited this beautiful place. Well, I am glad we did go to Celle!

What more, the striking Duke’s Castle built in early 13th century and is the oldest standing building in Celle is nestled right in the Centrum, just across the Bomann-Museum Celle.

The Ducal Palace foundation dates back to 1292. It went through rebuilding and several renovations in the later years.

The castle is a mix of renaissance and baroque style. Apart from its peaceful and beautiful nature garden surroundings, which is very ideal for visitors to stroll around and view the palace from a perspective point, Celle castle also houses a chapel and a theater, said to be the oldest in Europe that still serves the public regularly with outstanding theater performances.

Some of the architectural details of the buildings, windows and doorways in the Centrum.

Just a stone throw away from the Centrum is a forest garden park, which at this time of the year is now carpeted with yellow, brown, and red-orange leaves. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a quiet walk with nature, perhaps sit in one of the benches to pass away time and engage in some nostalgic reminiscing, or watch the fountains in the middle of the lake shoot up to the skies.

Fotos of Celle can be found here: Celle Fotos

The nature park is located adjacent to the Centrum. As you can see with the blue skies, and although it was cold, we only had beautiful weather.

We decided that Celle was a great place to end our short Deutsch weekend getaway. The city has an unperturbed atmosphere, very soothing to the spirit and where the celebration of culture and history, amazing architecture, and nature’s tranquility and beauty are combined. This is exactly what we needed for a wrap up before heading off back to the flatlands.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bad Pyrmont and Schloss Hamelschenburg in Germany

We stayed in BAD PYRMONT, a chic and up-market village in a romantic and hilly part of Weserbergland region in Niedersachsen. The place has a very special charm wrapped around her. She reminds me of Blomendaal and Bussum in the Netherlands where picturesque mansions and huge houses are sprawled all over the place.


The Hylligen Born (Holy Source of Spring Water) in Brunnenplatz forms the focal point of Bad Pyrmont.

To reach the Centrum, you will have to pass through the beautiful stately homes and drive all the way down to the basin of the valley where the Hylligen Born is located. Here you will find elegant shops and luxurious garden parks.

This convivial town is also known for its medicinal springs and therapeutic health spa garden resorts. Natural remedies are offered here for centuries. They say that the path to healing, recovery, and rejuvenation leads to Bad Pyrmont. The perfect hideaway after a hectic week at work! Too bad I live so far away, but Veluwe and Limburg would suffice for those urges when they come.

I wasn’t able to take fotos of Bad Pyrmont during the day as it was drizzling the whole time.

Close to Bad Pyrmont is the enchanting castle -- SCHLOSS HAMELSCHENBURG. To know more about the castle, please go here: Schloss Hamelschenburg Website


Schloss Hamelschenburg [Hamelschen Castle] in Weser Renaissance architecture is located along the provincial road.


We joined the first castle tour of the day (11AM) and listened to the tour guide narrate in Deutsch the history of the castle and its owners. All tour participants were local tourists and we were the only ones who did not speak Deutsch. They gave us English cheats to read but I preferred to listen to the tour guide since I could understand a little bit of Deutsch - or I am just too confident of my language skills?


Across the castle is this typical German style half-timbered house which serves as an Art Studio. You can see the mist blanket behind the house.


Outside the beautiful stronghold is a breathtaking countryside. Vibrant autumn colors in red, orange, yellow, and brown decorate rolling valleys and the vast mountains. The multihued trees and scenic landscapes are perfect holiday backdrops. They soothe the stressed and worn-out spirit. Had it not been so misty (it showered too) I would have taken more fotos of the surrounding nature. Later in the afternoon the sun shone and the mists disappeared.

I have also read that famous fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, and of course the Pied Piper of Hamelin all came from this region - Weserbergland.

Travel Period: November 2007
Destination: Bad Pyrmont (Lower Saxony), Germany

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spaghetti blooper in Hameln, Germany - the Pied Piper City

You can’t stay put for weeks in the Netherlands without going away for a weekend, where, for a change, there are sprawling valleys, steep cliffs, and impressive mountain views.

Hameln Centrum on a Saturday afternoon.

My first stop-over for this weekend getaway was the medieval town of HAMELN, Hamelin in English, the city famous for its legendary character, the Pied Piper, who drove all the rats away to the Weser River. When the relieved (from rats) town residents turned their backs and refused the Pied Piper the amount of money they originally promised him to pay, he came back with a deadly vengeance. He led 130 children out of the once rat-infested town into a cave and disappeared... never, ever, to be seen again.

This is a nice bird’s eye view of Hameln from the Klutturm Church tower.

For a splendid view of the city, a visit high up the Klutturm tower is a must! Children are free of charge and adults pay €1 each. Just a little bit of warning though, climbing up the Klutturm tower is only for the fit. To reach the top you must mount 167 spiraling steps, but definitely worth it. The views are therapeutic as you will also see the river and the mountains across town.

You can get a free map of the town at the tourist information office and ask there for direction to the Church tower. When you arrive at the church, inform the attendant that you would like to go up because they normally lock the tower doors and only open this when visitors ask.



The Pied Piper of Hameln in action. Check out his colourful attire and his funky yellow boots.

Beautiful artwork on the facade of a building in the Centrum.

It was a very cold and dry day in Hameln. Our necks and hands were freezing. Outside, the temperature clock registered 9C but it felt more like 5C, perhaps even lower. So we thought for lunch we will have something hot to fill our cold stomachs.

MadamE and I ordered Spaghetti Carbonara, and we were really looking forward to this meal but when the order came we were both speechless! MadamE’s husband burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter seeing our confused faces -– the Spaghetti Carbonara we ordered was actually ICE CREAM that looked like Spaghetti Carbonara! Ha-ha!

The shady Spaghetti Carbonara and Spaghetti Ice that tricked us.

This is what happens when you are too confident with your Dutch that you think you can actually read Deutsch menus. LOL

Surprisingly, the Spaghetti Carbonara ice cream were in fact very tasty - think the ice cream parlor must have been one of the best in Hameln, but it didn’t help us warm up a bit though, which was primarily our objective for that lunch.
Four of us in Hameln taking a weekend break.

For more fotos of Hameln, please go here: Hameln, Germany

The best time to go to Hameln is beginning the second half of May up to the first half of September. There are free open-air theater shows with actors dressed in medieval costumes depicting the story of the Pied Piper getting rid of the rats in Hameln and later coming back for the children.

Hameln is located in northern Germany, south of Hannover and part of the Niedersachsen region.


Travel Period: October 2007
Destination: Hameln (Hameln-Pyrmont - Lower Saxony), Germany

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Herfst in Amersfoort

Griep [flu] is in. I caught the bug from the Dutchman last weekend but doing a lot better now. Because of that let’s celebrate the fall season – the season of Griep!

Here are a few fotos I took in Amersfoort when I was there for a meet a couple of weeks ago:



The kamperbinnenpoort, the entrance to the shopping lane.

The medieval city of Amersfoort is located northeast of Utrecht and is part of Utrecht province. The city is famous for its fortified charming Centrum and three antiquated city gates. I only had the chance to take a foto of one city gate, and this is the kamperbinnenpoort.



A ‘gezellig’ cafe terrace in the Centrum.



Fall has a twirl of mystery draped around her.

Well, wearing 3-inches heels didn’t really encouraged me to wander around longer than I would have wanted to.

Herfst [Fall]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A try out for fitness

The weather man on TV news Utrecht, he is by the way one of my favorite characters on TV, said it will be a great Saturday, 16C, sunny and dry. This would be a good start, I told myself, a good start for my long overdue running and brisk walking fitness program.

Sporting, exercising, and any activity that requires my bum to vigorously move around are not my usual kind of thing, unfortunately. My mother did not spit me out of this world to torture my muscles. People close to me would laugh seeing me in a sports outfit and a pair of trainers. It’s like that punk singer Pink taking ballet lessons and wearing the tutu with high pointy heels. They just don’t match up.

At home Dutchman would always make fun of me, “When will you ever start this fitness program of yours?” When he puts 80’s music on the player, I would usually jump off the seat and start dancing, and the next thing I know he would burst into trickles of mean laughter, “Tjonge-jonge-jonge, is this what you call fitness program?” Argh! - I tell him to shut up. Hmm, on that note, I can actually combine dancing with running and brisk walking into my fitness program. Brilliant!


So moving on, Saturday, I woke up late, and felt my throat itch. Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m on the verge of catching the bug. At work, it looks like half have been bugged down, and now at home... the carrier, the Dutchman, is down with fever and colds and might possibly inflict me with the virus. He is in a frantic mood right now as two business trips are already scheduled into his agenda, one starting on Monday, and the other, the week thereafter (that’s why the anniversary trip, the stay-in-a-castle-in-France that won the poll will have to wait).


I’m also scheduled for a pleasure trip next weekend, but nevertheless, in the coming two weeks I will be alone again, which I really don’t mind as this gives me the opportunity to stretch my little body generously across the bed and have all the pillows to myself. No more leg obstacles; ahhh, the bed and pillows will be mine... all mine... [followed by an evil laugh].

So Dutchman being sick and all, he stayed in bed, naturally with his dear possession, his laptop propped up on top of his legs, while I went out to do grocery shopping alone.

The shopping list: 1) buy me a pair of trainer shoes, and a trainer set - hooded sweatshirt and pants, 2) have my high-heel black boots’ heel repaired, 3) tissues for the Dutchman at Kruidvat, and lastly, 4) grocery shopping.


Do I look like Missy Eliot or what? And finally... after garnering yearly my high-heels loyalty award, I have a pair of trainers!!! I could not find all-white ones (I canvassed for weeks, only tennis shoes were all-white) so I settled for this.

The domestic tasks went quickly, and I could not wait to step into my new pair of running shoes and trainer set! The weather outside is wonderful and I am going to run. No one is going to stop me. Oh, I am so excited! (lol)

Well, I did run, and when my feet and legs were tired, I switched to brisk walking. So I did alternate running and walking for two hours I think. Right now, my leg muscles are hurting a bit. The Tiger balsam, which I brought from the Philippines, together with my other Asian cures – efficascent oil, white flower, and rubbing alcohol (you can’t get this in the Netherlands), would do justice to my sore muscles tonight.

For a first timer, I think I pushed myself too hard. But even then, I already made up my mind for tomorrow Sunday. I will run-walk again. Maybe I should print down maps of Utrecht and create my own running-walking routes, and perhaps measure too how far the distances I can make for each suggested route.

When I got home after the run, Dutchman was grinning ear to ear behind his laptop, “You finally made your first day of your fitness program, congratulations.” He still wants me to skate though, but I told him it would take me months, maybe years before I can properly skate with him, and even then I would probably not be skating side by side with him as I will for sure be left behind and crawling on the ground. I think skiing is easier than skating.

“It’s time for your steam.”

“It’s not that strong, did you (not) put a lot of menthol in it?” croaked the Dutchman quivering under the thick tiger printed furry fleece blanket, given by the Dutch parents a year ago.


“Don’t complain okay, just inhale.”

I hope the menthol steam technique works, and I hope I have not caught the bug, *clears my itchy throat* - fingers crossed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What do you have for lunch?

I am crazy over salads! At work I make them with gusto. I rarely go out to eat during lunch breaks, instead, I bring food from home and buy the rest of the salad ingredients at a nearby supermarket.


Tomatoes, capers, marinated artichokes, Italian salametto dried sausage, green olives, cucumber, above heaps of rucola leaves. The only ingredient lacking here are cheese flakes, either grana padano or parmigiano reggiano.

In my previous job, the office was nestled in between the flower fields of North Holland and the nearest supermarket is a 30 minute walk. Because of this we have our own cafeteria and exclusive cook. During winter, and to carry us throughout the cold grey day, the cook would fix us rich and filling types of warm food - soup, uitsmijter, and nasi.

I’d like to blame the cook. That was the start of my inevitable struggle with the weighing scale, which up to this day continues to be a big challenge. Why oh why is eating such a hard habit to break?

*sigh*

Tomorrow Saturday I am going to buy a pair of trainers and start my long due briskwalking.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Artichoke binge in Utrecht

Let’s talk about food for a change. Don’t worry; its not Dutch food as there is nothing much to talk about it anyway (lol), but food from laid-back and delightful southern Europe. I have recently converted myself to become one of the disciples of the Italian cuisine. Pizzas and pastas are not my thing but I totally adore the ambrosial Italian antipastis!

Well tonight, I did some food experimentation. I am not the greatest cook that walked on the face of the earth but I do enjoy the daily cooking activity -- something we always joke about by the way, that I should get extra domestic chores seeing as cooking would not fall under real housework for me.

Here’s what I whipped up for dinner tonight. A mix of yummy Italian antipasti with pasta.


Looks more like a pasta salad - grilled onions, aubergine, courgette, fresh tomatoes, and artichokes, olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Speaking of my cooking abilities, Dutchman has only praises, except for this one particular occasion a couple of years back when I put a generous serving of sambal oelek (chili paste) into his erwtensoep soup (pea soup). You can only imagine the headline news, for weeks, during Dutch family get-togethers: *Gasp* Erwtensoep with sambal!

At any rate, I guess all of us have food binges from time to time. I have this too, like now, and in fact, I could go on for weeks with a certain food obsession. There was a time I only ate Indonesian Mihoen during lunch, for I think a month or so. I stopped when the kilos added up. They were far too heavy for lunch anyway. These days I have been craving for marinated artichokes in spices, vinegar, and olive oil. I just could not get enough of them.

Earlier today I went to Utrecht center. It was koopzondag and the city center was swarming with people. Given the beautiful weather, I brought my camera with me, walked around a bit, and took some shots.



Busy shopping street on a lovely day in Utrecht and the 13th century old Dom tower rising above. Next foto is a peek through the window of the inner courtyard gardens of the Dom church.


Gondolier maneuvering his gondola in Oudegracht and the Domplein (Dom square) with the statue of Graaf Jan van Nassau and the pretty Academiegebouw (Academy building) of Utrecht University.



Oudegracht facing a canal terrace, a building, and the Oudaen, a 13th century city castle, now a restaurant-cafe and brewery where I had a glass of rose. The next foto is the impressive gate to Oudaen.

It could be that I have very strong self-control attributes or perhaps... I have totally lost the shopping knack(?). I went home empty handed except for a little plastic bag from the toko (exotic food shop) – noodles, sesame oil, and artichokes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My new safety gadget: Panic alarm

Since pepper spray is classified as a dangerous weapon in the Netherlands, thus not allowed to be sold and distributed, and therefore bear no legal rights to be carried in this country, even under the self-defense clause (hear ye, hear ye: if caught in possession, you can be penalised and imprisoned up to 4 years! sigh - this little country is a complicated place to live in, I swear), this cool alarm gadget serves as the perfect alternative.

Bought in Kruidvat - these safety gadgets are going for €2.99 only.


Pull the metal chain from the pen and a loud, sharp, and piercing sound comes off. Highly recommended if you live in a densely populated jungle of a place where petty crimes are a continuing challenge.
hshhjfggfjjhghhfdweonsbjwa
Of course this entry is not complete without the Dutchman’s judicious and critical (typically Dutch) opinion. He said that in reality most people just do not have enough time or the trained reflex to quickly react and use this gadget when faced with an unsuspected situation such as a robbery. Fear and panic over presence of mind and strategy. Or if not, the panic alarm gadget would be far out of reach. Best is to make sure this gadget is always close to you – within arms and seconds reach.

Here is a recent experience to ponder about:


A couple of days ago, I read on the news about a woman involved in a vehicular accident in France. She skidded off from the highway tracks and unfortunately left no trace. The woman in question spent 6 days in the car as her leg was stuck and therefore could not move and reach for her mobile phone. A farmer who happen to pass by saw her trapped under the car dashboard and immediately called for help. If she had this panic alarm gadget hanging from her car keys (where I hang this now too), she could have been saved earlier by pulling the chain and calling attention.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Enchanting 'Wijk bij Duurstede'

My feet were itching again last weekend -- I am dying to explore a picturesque borough! And even though the weather was grey and dreary, it has its lucky charm for the day. It was dry, and on Sunday afternoon, the sun stooped low and sent a few warm rays along our way.

With the many beautiful villages the Netherlands has to offer, it is indeed a daunting yet irresistible task for this history and cultural devotee to choose which reward to unwrap and discover this time. So I turned to the book Dutch sister loaned me for help - Het Toppunt van Nederland. What am I searching? I am looking for a charming village with an appealing history, a countryside feel, scenic (of course), and should not be far from the city of Utrecht.

A write up about Wijk bij Duurstede caught my eye. The municipality is about 22 kilometers down southeast of Utrecht. It says this town has the most number of castles in the country – 15! Most are located in the little village of Langbroek (which I still have to visit by the way).


“De Donjon” Duurstede castle. Spooky eh?

Now, let’s start with the most popular castle of the 15, the one bearing the name of the town - Duurstede.

This magical 13th century citadel is situated in an island near the Centrum, and nicknamed by many as “De Donjon”. The book said this is the biggest and tallest bastion in the Netherlands (probably before its destruction?). The castle is partly in ruins conditions and the standing tower now fully restored to its magnificent state reminds us of its past grandeur and glory.


Helaas, the castle was closed for a private party. No one can go inside.

Spotted outside the castle walls by the entrance gate, this poem is heartily dedicated to those with uncontrollable mouths but still managed to get a following.

How shall I say this? I loved the setting of the castle! It’s like a precious gem hidden in a forest island, watched and sheltered charily by unseen eyes. The sphere exudes a deep medieval spirit that sends us back in time. The castle breathes. It is alive and is speaking to me... however, its other half is mysteriously silent, buried in the thick vaults of history, as evidenced by its remaining torn down walls.


The Markt Centrum in Wijk bij Duustede, and who says opas (grandpas) are not camwhores? lol

The Centrum on the other hand, as it is Sunday, suggests a deserted ghost town. For a relatively small village, they have impressive goodies displayed (and were teasing me, come buy me!) from the shop window. I am already eyeing a classy dark brown high-heel boots. There were also a few bars and restaurants open. By the old stadhuis [city hall], activity was building up as an ice cream parlor and a café with open-air terraces were servicing customers. I was not in the mood to sit down. It was too cold to be immobile when walking has its advantages - I am burning energy, so I bought an ijsje [ice cream] instead.

Above is the striking “Langs de wal” -- these elegant buildings-residences are not cheap, and on the left foto is the boat feast in the haven.

Then I took a stroll towards the haven where the locals held a little boat festival.

Facing the haven is a long stretch of fortification ruins called, “Langs de Wal”, and guarded with a row of neat, striking and elegant buildings following the curvature pattern of the brickwork walls. If you walk further to the junction by the little bridge, you will see the imposing yet charismatic windmill, the “Rijn en Lek”. Due to its prime positioning along the (once) city defense walls, many passersby identify the windmill with the town. The “Rijn en Lek” windmill has become a Wijk bij Duurstede landmark.

...............


This is taken in “Langs de Wal” and you can see the elegant buildings, the “Rijn en Lek” windmill, and the boat festivities in the haven.


The pretty “Rijn en Lek” windmill.

Surprisingly the weather got better so I thought I would linger for a while. The Dutchman is with his father anyway (they just got back from Italy), busy helping him with the computer, so I have enough time to knock around to my hearts content in this town.

Further ahead, I saw the rich green meadow with ponies grazing below the dikes. A traipse down there would be nice...


I am below the dike! Erm, someone is playing with the bicycle traffic signboard.

The river “Lek” is one of the river arms of the river Rhine in Germany. This flows all the way to Kinderdijk and to the river Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam.

More fotos here: Wijk bij Duurstede

Official information of Wijk bij Duurstede in English: The borough of Wijk bij Duurstede

Sigh – It’s one of those days that have to end. The whole experience left me with a warm fuzzy feeling though, loving the discovery, immersing in history and culture, and yet not having enough of it, which reminds me -- I still have the nearby lovely villages to explore: Cothen and Langbroek. Now that’s something to look forward to!

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